In my quest to find free entertainment via my public library, I discovered the movie streaming service called Kanopy, which seems to have its fair share of really great foreign and independent films as well as documentaries. Or at least that seems to be what I’ve been gravitating toward when I have added things to my watchlist. Granted, I have subscriptions to four other streaming services plus a DVD/Blu-Ray collection with plenty of mainstream feature films, so I didn’t necessarily need to look for Spider-Man: Far From Home on Kanopy.
This is all setup for why I wound up watching a documentary about the life and career of Bettie Page, as narrated by Ms. Page herself. She is a celebrity I had definitely heard of, but never known much about beyond the pinup images I would see from time to time; the various solicitations for comics, coffee table books, and calendars gracing the pages of Previews; and the number of women who have attempted to emulate her look or style. So exposure was a definite yes, but if you asked me who she actually was, I couldn’t tell you.
Enter this documentary, which was filmed and produced in the last year or so of her life but also incorporates footage from her 2008 funeral and serves as both an autobiography and memorial. Page’s narration is entirely in voice-over, as she was extremely reclusive after her modeling career ended in the 1950s and did not wish to be shown on camera in her old age. But that honestly doesn’t matter, because her story is intriguing and she is very candid about her entire life, not just her modeling career. Page details her childhood as well as the fifty years of her life after she retired, which was not always happy and included incidents of abuse as well as a battle with schizophrenia, which had her hospitalized more than once during the latter half of the 20th Century.
That she allowed for such a candid look at her life and her struggles and the film wasn’t simply a puff piece with a lot of T&A (although there’s plenty of that, including full nudity) is what makes it intriguing, and I left the film wondering why Page faded into obscurity through parts of the Sixties and Seventies while someone like Marilyn Monroe never left the public eye. I’m sure there’s a whole conversation to be had about Marilyn’s “mainstream” nature in film and on the page as opposed to Page’s slightly “lesser” status in pinup calendars and B-movies. But the revival of her image in the Eighties courtesy of Rocketeer creator Dave Stevens and comic artist Greg Theakston and how that eventually led to her finally receiving some compensation for the use of her image (a long legal fight that, at one point, involves Hugh Hefner stepping up for her) is fascinating to learn about and does make you wonder about what happens to those whose images we cherish after they have left the spotlight. The film is a solid hour and a half and winds up being one of the better celebrity biography documentaries because of its candor.
Watch or Skip?